Last season’s Braggin’ Rights Game against Illinois proved memorable for the then-freshmen on Missouri’s roster.
Unfortunately, it had little to do with the crowd of 20,079 that is largely split down midcourt, with Tigers fans clad in black and gold on one side and orange-clad Fighting Illini fans on the other.
“I remember the step-back three,” sophomore guard Tramaine Isabell said. “It was a tough game.”
Illinois guard Rayvonte Rice splashed in a deep three-pointer over two Missouri defenders at the buzzer last December, delivering a 62-59 win.
It’s not the kind of thing a team easily forgets.
“It was a fun game, and it was a pretty good environment,” sophomore guard Namon Wright said. “Hopefully we can go out there and get the win. That’s just the main objective. … We owe them one. We definitely do.”
Senior forward Ryan Rosburg — who grew up in St. Louis County and regularly received Braggin’ Rights tickets as a Christmas gift — owes the Illini two. He was on the bench for the Tigers’ last win in the series, an 82-73 victory in a matchup of ranked teams in December 2012.
Rosburg also was there a year later when Tracy Abrams’ two free throws with 4.6 seconds remaining lifted Illinois to a one-point win, and for Rice’s final-second heroics last season.
“It’s definitely my favorite game of the year,” Rosburg said. “I always have it circled on my calendar. You hate to say it, but it kind of makes or breaks your Christmas break, especially being from St. Louis and playing in front of so many people that I know. I’m looking forward to it and looking forward to a chance to win.”
Missouri hasn’t won a nonconference game against a Power Five opponent in nearly two years. Ending that nine-game slide is the main objective for coach Kim Anderson’s squad when the 35th Annual Braggin’ Rights Game tips off at 6 p.m. Wednesday on ESPN2 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said freshman guard Cullen VanLeer, who grew up 35 miles west of St. Louis in Pacific, Mo. “I’ve seen it on TV, half-gold and half-orange. I’m ready to be a part of it. We’re going to go to work the next three days, and we’re going to come back and prove some doubters wrong — get the W hopefully.”
The Tigers’ uneven campaign has reached an important crossroads. After an encouraging start in the host-site games of the CBE Classic, Missouri, 5-5, dropped three straight against high-major opponents before moving back above .500 with three consecutive wins against midmajor programs.
Then the Tigers were embarrassed in a 36-point rout at Arizona and had no answer for North Carolina State’s Cat Barber in the first home loss of the season on Saturday.
Missouri needs a bounce-back game, but Anderson was careful not to put too much emphasis on needing to beat Illinois.
“That’s an important game just from the standpoint it’s the next game and obviously we’ve played poorly for two games,” Anderson said. “Yeah, it’s an important game, but it’s not the absolute most important game of the season. … It’s a great tradition, and hopefully we’ll play well and make our fans happy.”